Sewing tools: Thimbles

Home Economics was not a reality when I was in school. I’m pretty sure there were home ec classes in all of my schools, but I had other stuff to fill those seven classes a day. Most school years, I didn’t have time for all the stuff I wanted to do, much less classes the teenage aspiring astronaut/doctor/senator/lawyer me would ever need.

This means I’m mostly self-taught in all sorts of crafty stuff. One great-grandmother did give me a basic 9 block when I was about four (she made gorgeous quilts), and another put a ginormous crochet hook and the nastiest 1970’s era acrylic yarn in my hands (and made me wary of yarn for years) and my mother taught me the basics of running a sewing machine at some point, but I’m GenX. We really didn’t get instruction — we got instruction manuals. I’ve been RTFMing since I could read.

I never learned to use a thimble. I know what they are, and I’ve used a lot of makeshift ones over the years (a never-to-be-used credit card makes a great needle pusher; teeth can be used as needle pliers in a real pinch, but the former will ruin the card, and the latter will send a dentist’s kid to Berkeley) but I’ve never figured out how they’re supposed to work.

Some people push the needle with a fingertip, but I use the side of my middle finger, between the first and second knuckle. When I do handwork, I usually use a back-stitch or a chain stitch, not a running stitch. My stitch length won’t win awards and running stitches get bunchy on me.

For a thimble, I start with a square of leather about 3″ x 3″. I’ve used junk purses, Dritz leather elbow patches, upholstery scrap and chamois from the automotive shop. I personally like upholstery scrap, since it’s a good weight, usually cheap, and flexible. The only thing that doesn’t work well is garment suede. Garment suede will wear through in about three weeks of heavy use. The small pieces from Michael’s work fine if that’s what you’ve got, but you’re better off buying a thrift-store purse and cutting it down. Vegans, I’m sorry, but pleather does not work. The needles will puncture it. If you’re entirely opposed to using leather, I suggest figuring out how to use a metal thimble.

You’ll also need
heavy thread or two rivets (my preference for speed and not having to shove a needle through leather without a thimble)
an awl
a small hammer
something you can pound on (anvil, scrap wood, sibling skull — something thick, not easily damaged, resilient)
scissors (not the fabric scissors)
chalk or a crayon

Wrap the leather around the finger you want to protect, with one edge near the palm knuckle and the other near the nail. You want this to be tight but not cut off circulation — leather will stretch over time. Use your chalk to mark your first and second knuckles, and mark the length. You want about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.5 to 1 cm) overlap.

Your fingers probably taper a little, so the first shape you’ll cut in the leather is a trapezoid. (Do this fitting with paper or a scrap of fabric if leather is hard to get.)


A: length of finger between first and third knuckle
B: circumference of finger at third knuckle plus 1/2 inch
C: circumference of finger at first knuckle plus 1/2 inch

Cut a couple half circles from each side of the trapezoid and one from the center — this is so your finger can bend. Don’t cut too deep, and use your chalk marks as a guide.

Now use the awl to poke holes in the corners — where the blue dots are in my drawing. If you’re sewing the thimble together, you’ll need six or eight on each tab, about 1/8 inch apart. Rivets only need one hole. Rivets are cheap (usually $3 for a pack of fifty) and they’re right next to the leather at the craft shop.

Check the fit, sew up or smash the rivets, and get to sewing. For me, that means an audiobook or some season of television.

Channeling my inner Michael Jackson

I have one glove. Of course, it’s black, made of some odd light-weight faux leather stuff I had in stash, and not sequined, but it’s mine.

I’ve never made a glove before. I have odd hands — long fingers, muscular and not really delicate — so shop gloves have never really fit. I probably should have built gloves a long time ago, but pockets have done the job most of the time.

This one is just a prototype, made exactly to pattern spec. I will probably make some alterations now that I have an idea how they go together, but for now, it’s not bad.

These were entirely hand sewn. The instructions were for machine, but given the narrow seam allowances, it seemed simpler. I spent about 4 hours on this one over a couple days.





Sort of long shot


The Waterloo Project: Costuming starts now

I sew mostly out of necessity. See, when I was about thirteen, the Boob Fairy came down with a case of short-term memory loss, and she just kept visiting my house. In the space of about six months, I didn’t just fill out, I over-filled, then bloomed, blossomed and burst out. Someday I’ll find her and give her the share of low-back aches she visited upon me.

I’m also short (thanks, Mom) and short-waisted. I can either buy off the rack and look like hell, buy off the rack and alter and look like Purgatory, commission custom and eat oatmeal, or just accept that my down time will be spent developing a meaningful relationship with my iron and my seam-ripper.

I also did re-enactment and theater as a young adult, and there’s no off the rack for either of those. I’ve built my share of custom clothing, and I’m not bad at it, when I have patience, motivation and either spare time or spare money. I’ve even built corsets, which are the sewist equivalent of a Waterford Apprentice Bowl — once you make one, you can pretty much make anything else.

And in addition to that, my partner is a foot taller than me, broad shouldered, long-armed, long-torso’ed, and has issues with seam finishes, fabrics, textures and colors. He really hates overlocked seams, would rather wear a Tyvek hazmat suit than go shopping, and dislikes polyester, wool and silk. He does have a specific style of trousers that will be available as long as BDUs are made, so I don’t have to make his slacks or his jockeys, but shirts are a pain to find. It turned out to be easier to develop a pattern and make him a new polo or dress shirt about once a month than try to buy for him.

This adds up to me being comfortable with my mad sewing skillz.

But… I am a practical girl. I don’t like ruffles, or lace or much trimming of any sort. As egotistical and vain as he was, Beau Brummel had a really good notion when he started pushing for simplicity of line and exquisite craftwork as a means of conspicuous consumption. The bad news for a chickie playing in the Regency era is that very little of Brummel’s sensibility got into women’s fashion. The good news is that one area of women’s fashion was dominated by male tailors serving a primarily male audience — the riding habit.

Interesting thing about the habit — according to Ackermann’s Repository, riding habits tended to get used for traveling clothing, and habits would come with walking skirts for specifically that purpose.

That’s what I’m making: habits, with walking skirts.

The fabric has arrived (pics of that tomorrow, assuming I have light) but the sketches are finished:

Underpinnings: Chemise, corset. I’ll need at least four of the former, and two of the latter. I learned to like reed as boning when I lived in a much hotter desert than this one, so the corsets will be a combination of reed and cording. I’m going to try Laughing Moon’s new Regency Stays pattern, but instead of using their gusset cups to contain my bounty, I’ll be using a draw-string adjustable gathered cup. Extant corsets had this feature, and it’s a practical one, given that the Regency bustline is essentially Lift, Separate, Balance On High Shelf. Any woman with any cuppage at all had to contain her assets somehow.

Next layer is the skirt, which, given Regency waistlines, is more jumper, and shirt. I’m using La Mode Bagatelle’s Bodiced Petticoat pattern (but without additional boning) and putting in a side opening. Shirt is plain, sleeved, cotton lawn, with underarm gussets and cut to a natural waist length.

Redingcote version one. Same fabric as skirt. Stock will be same fabric as shirt, so cotton lawn.

Spencer or pelisse — still not sure. Right now, I’m looking for documentation on a feminine tail coat or similar. I think this would look smashing with a red skirt, an open swallowtail coat, and a brocaded waistcoat, but that may be just a costume fantasy rather than a re-enactment piece. I have seen an extant, 1810 habit with a long waistline (like to the natural waist) but I need to find more documentation on that specific piece.

General Grouse

High efficiency washing machines are GREAT when you live in a desert.

They suck for prewashing fabric. Everything gets twisted, and then the new, modern dryer makes it all worse. And there is no hanging of laundry right now, because yesterday’s high temp was a balmy 14 degrees, and there’s not enough Thinsulate in the world. (Also, my neighbors on the side of the house with the clothesline have somewhere between nine and twenty-gazillion dogs, and I am allergic, so that area is a no-go.)

Indeed, I have ironed about twenty yards of cotton recently. Why do you ask?

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Bad Engineer.)

I was not drinking anything stronger than Coke Zero.

Yeah, so that didn’t work. C and I did a post-mortem on the frame (and didn’t take pics, sorry) and came up with three major points of failure.

1. As well as I drilled into my dowels, I still ended with some crookedness.
2. Poplar is way, way too soft.
3. The legs are too tall.

That’s okay — I’ll use the legs for a table and a wash-stand, and the oak dowels will get used in the chair.

Alternate scheme in progress for bed and transport boxes, but I need to go to IKEA first, and that’s at the far end of Denver Metro.

I’m rethinking the tent design now — I think I’ll be working with the bowed wagon design, because any interior frame I can build will be too heavy to carry, or too light to survive.

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Part 1)

It’s cold and bitter today. There is snow coming (yay! — perfect birthday present, Mother Nature!) though not much. And since it’s my birthday, I got to do whatever I wanted, and that was build a piece of my kit.

My warranty gave out a long time ago. Even sleeping on the couch is sometimes a bad idea. Floors are entirely out, and the ground? Phui. Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp. Thirty-seven year old joints are starting to lose their hydraulic fluid.

One of my requirements for this project is using as many off the shelf components as possible. I don’t have a lathe, or a good place to set up our table saw. Long, long years ago, I worked in technical theater, and that’s where I got my introduction to all things constructive, and DIY. I can paint, frame, wallpaper, wire switches, but I’ve never been comfortable with table and jigsaws. I don’t mind miter saws or bandsaws, but there’s something about the table saw that says Amputation Likely to me.

When I started designing the cot, I designed for either stair balusters or pre-manufactured table legs. I chose table legs (specifically Wendell 21 3/4″ Early American) because they were more graceful and in keeping with Regency furniture, while being easily accessible (so if I totally botched one, I was only out $6) and sturdy.

I’m basing this cot on some extant ones. During the Napoleonic Wars, officers often commissioned full kits of campaign furniture, including tables that seat twelve, recliners that convert to beds, and bookcases that break down into small boxes for transport. Campaign furniture is always knock-down furniture — it’s the precursor to flatpack — and it’s incredibly clever stuff. I’ll link to photos in the near future.

My construction methods are not period — that would be using mortise and tenon joints and pegs — because it will mostly be hidden, and this is a prototype.


— 6 table legs (I got mine at Lowe’s; they’re usually back near lumber, on the same aisle as dowels and paneling.)
— 6 1″ diameter oak dowels, 36″ long. (Poplar has sufficient strength, but they come in 48″ lengths, and I didn’t want to be cutting if I could avoid it. Oak is more expensive, heavier per inch, and is harder to drill, so I may rebuild this with poplar in future if it turns out to be too heavy.)
— 3 5/8″ dowels (these are poplar, because I already owned them for another project)
— 2 pieces of 8/32 threaded rod, 3″ long
–14 carriage bolts, 8/32, 2″ long
— 20 Tee nuts, 8/32 threading (I prefer the ones that attach with little nails through holes, but the ones with teeth that you hammer on work, too. Those are slightly more likely to split the dowels, but they go on a lot faster.) 20130111-213812.jpg

Drill and appropriate bits
Vise or clamps
measuring and marking tools, including a tape measure and a level-ruler.
Vacuum cleaner that has a hose. (Sawdust gets everywhere.)

1. On each table leg, make a mark 3 inches down from the top, and drill a hole straight down through the mark and through the diameter of the leg. I step up from a pilot hole with a 1/16″ bit to a 1/4″. It takes longer, but I’m more likely to get a clean, straight hole and it’s easier on the drill.


2. On four of the legs (the corners) make a second mark, one inch above the hole you just made, and rotated 90 degrees from the hole, so your new hole will be perpendicular to the one you just made. Drill those holes, too.


3. On all six legs, drill a hole 4 inches from the bottom through the diameter. On the four with two holes, the holes should be parallel to the bottom hole; on the two with one hole, the lower hole should be perpendicular.

4. Set the legs aside and clamp your first dowel perpendicular to the floor. You’re going to drill holes into the center of your dowels, at both ends, and insert a tee nut into all twelve ends. Here is where a drill press is very handy, if you have one (I don’t) but it can be done with some practice without one. Here is where drilling a pilot hole and stepping up is most important — it’s really easy to angle the drill and even a degree or two will mean you’ll crack the side of the dowel.






A trick for drilling straight holes — grab a blank CD-ROM or a trashed one. Balance it, shiny side up, on the thing you’re drilling. Set your drill bit on your center mark, through the hole of the CD, and align the bit and the bit’s reflection. Drill straight down, watching the line the bit and the reflection make. Once you’ve got the pilot hole drilled, you can remove the CD.

Tomorrow, we assemble, and fit the fabric.

The Waterloo Project: Funding and Budget

An eight-week trip is expensive. I figure that just sitting in my house, doing absolutely nothing besides using what I already own costs around $10 a day in mortgage, electricity, connectivity and insurance.

Estimates are always low, but my mother is a project manager, so I’ve picked up her tool — always figure a cushion into the price of something. For construction, my cushion is always 2 X current sales tax. (Which means about 18% for me.) For travel, I go higher.

Here’s my current breakdown with some overestimates built in for inflation/exchange rate changes:

$600 — Train from Colorado to New York City to catch the ship (in a roomette)
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, on a Cunard line Transatlantic ship, eastbound
$ 150 — Train from Southampton to Suffolk
$1000 — Lodging in Suffolk (I’ve found a couple of guesthouses in the 300 pound per week range; if I use a camping site as my base, the tariff will be cheaper but I’ll have other expenses)
$ 600 — Food for twenty days (I’m mostly vegetarian, I am happy with simple picnic foods)
$ 400 — Bicycle rental (or purchase, with subsequent donation to Oxfam)
$1000 — Incidentals. I won’t be buying much, because of the transport issues, but some things can be mailed home, and some things will break — like bike tire inner tubes.
$150 — Train from Suffolk to London to Belgium.
$400 — 2-4 nights’ lodging in Belgium (I don’t know about this yet because the Waterloo 2015 project doesn’t yet know when and and for how long the site will be open for this.)
$300 — food and water at site
$300 — site fees (again, I don’t know if this is even reasonable.)
$150 — train from Belgium to London
$1800 — lodging, food in London for 7 days (There are London B&Bs around 50 pounds a night, though I don’t know if this means STAY AWAY or not.)
$60 — train from London to Southampton to catch the westbound ship
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, westbound
$600 — Train from New York to Colorado
$1000 — taxis, buses, random other events unforeseeable.

So… around $11 grand, all told. What gear I take will run somewhere around $2000, but that can be bought in small doses, as needed, over the next year. Given my 30% over-estimate, I’m looking at $15,000. I’ll also need to update my passport.

All of our debt (save our mortgage, which is small) is gone by June of this year. This is why I can even consider taking this trip. Right now, I’m shoving about $300 a month into savings for this; after June, that will jump by more than an order of magnitude, but it can be done, with long-range planning, on $300 a month for 30 months. (So, significantly less than my car payment was.) If I had children to send to college, this wouldn’t be possible at all. It also means no new toys for me for the foreseeable future. (C and I have separate toy funds.)

There are places where this could be cheaper — if I find a roomie for the two weeks at sea, or if I manage to couch-surf. This might be possible, but I’m not counting on it.

Archive: Dispatch from the Trenches of Public Mental Health

Archive: Originally posted at Democratic Underground on 12/18/12

As a preface, the discussions on mental health this week have gotten me where I live. On April 20, 1999, I was working a few counties away from Columbine High School, in the juvenile division. I had several clients who were either expelled or suspended from school in the days after — not for anything they did, but for being different, under care, or just part of the geek/goth sub-culture. My clients bore the blame for the actions of others, and that blame did not help anyone — not community, not clients, not the victims. I’m seeing that exact same pattern again. We have done this, and the collateral damage endures.

These are my experiences — the stats have probably changed since my colleagues and I last compiled our numbers, but they haven’t changed much, and in many cases, not for the better. I don’t have accurate numbers for 2008-forward, but given the slashing state, county and city budgets have taken, I’m not hopeful for better.


I used to be a clinical psychologist in public mental health. Burn out is the brontosaurus in the living room. Here’s a snapshot of the trenches. The average public mental health clinician has been in the job for less than five years, and has been licensed for about the same amount of time. They’re mostly young and new. 65% leave public service for either private practice or get out of the field entirely. I was lucky — I had excellent scholarships and fellowships through grad school, but some of my peers self-financed and left grad school with debt they will be paying until they hit Social Security age. Starting salary at the county level (which is the majority of public mental health clinicians) averages less than the average first year public school teacher. (A psychologist, by the way, usually has 7 years of post-secondary education; a K-12 teacher has 5-6.) We don’t have a union. In some counties, we’re not even employees — we’re contractors, so no benefits. We don’t go into psych for the money — we’re there because we want to help others. And it kills us — we’re 3 times more likely to commit suicide than our peers. We’re 6 times more likely to be on anxiolytics than the general population.

In my last year before going back into research, 95% of my clients were court-ordered. The few who were there voluntarily were as compliant as their circumstances allowed, but a court order drops compliance by at least half. A therapist can’t help a client who doesn’t want help, and often clients work against court-ordered therapy. For the court-ordered client, the therapist is the avatar of a power structure where the client is entirely disempowered. The therapist seems to have the power to send a parolee back to prison for a beer or mouthing off, to place zir children in foster care, to force them to abandon anyone we determine to be a “bad influence” — which in a lot of cases, means most of the client’s social network. In most counties, the client is forced to pay for this. In most places, public mental health services are set up to fail comprehensively. I worked in a red county, and believe me, the county board of supervisors wanted us to fail. If we failed, they could stop paying us liberal commie bleeding hearts and just send all that human garbage to rot in prison (and that prison made a lot of the local power structure a lot of money…)

Our clients’ median household income was less than half of the local median household income. Poverty makes compliance harder.

Pop quiz:
Go to therapy or go to work — when skipping either violates parole?
Buy court-ordered meds or buy food?
Use one’s 9th grade literacy skills to write in one’s therapy journal or get an extra half-hour of sleep after a triple shift?
Pick two: rent, therapy, or kid’s root canal?

Clients have a lot of dreadful algebra every day. For a lot of my clients, poverty was both the cause and effect of their dx. Public mental health made me a socialist — fix the social safety net and half of the client load vanishes because half of the client load is situational. If every kid has enough to eat, safe and comfortable housing and an effective school, if every adult has safe shelter, valued, meaningful work and sufficient leisure, depression and anxiety plummet. It’s not a panacea, but our deficits in the safety net magnify our problems.

I spent most of my time in the trenches deeply worried about my clients — I took it home with me every night. If a client was non-compliant and I reported it, my client could have gone to prison (or gone back for parole violation), which ends any hope of effective treatment. Non-compliance can mean anything from skipping appointments to not doing the work to skipping meds to self-medicating. I was supposed to report every beer, even with clients who had no addiction problems. Do I report someone because zie blew a long-bald tire or got a chance to work extra hours so zer kids actually got new shoes, but can’t call to reschedule because zer boss doesn’t allow personal calls (or maybe doesn’t know zie’s in therapy — people still get fired for mental illness, especially in right to work states)? If I didn’t report it, that’s my license… And possibly a suicide, or domestic violence, or a relapse. Believe me, that stress eats therapists alive.

Without a license, my master’s degree won’t get me a job at a call center or flipping burgers. But pissing off a client by reporting non-compliance earned one of my colleagues a severe beating. I had my tires slashed (which were bald, but I couldn’t afford to replace them.) I was salaried, scheduled for 30 one-on-one appointments a week, plus 10 hours of group, plus 75 welfare calls (6-12 hours), plus on call for 24 hours a week. Yes, 70-80 hour weeks, for which the county paid us $27K a year plus medical and dental (but I couldn’t take the time off to actually see my doctor or dentist…) Unlike teachers, we don’t even get summers off. The year I left, the county I worked for cut 3 of the 27 positions and the county judges ordered 21% more therapy. Which meant worse service, worse outcomes, more recidivism, which gave the county board of supervisors more incentive to cut the budget.

This country doesn’t care about public mental health, either the clients or the therapists. We’re first responders — and the first rule of first response is don’t be a casualty. I was terrified I was going to kill myself, or screw up so badly that a client or someone else got hurt. I cried every night for three years. I am in research now so I have the energy and time to fight for better conditions for clients and colleagues. I still have 80 hour work weeks, but half of that time is lobbying on their behalf. It’s the only way we’ll ever change it. Public mental health is like juggling burning napalm.

The Waterloo Project: Background

Despite being a non-theist Quaker, I have an obsession with war — specifically the Napoleonic Wars. I find the whole history fascinating, from the weaponry to the women who followed the drum, to the strategies to the equipment and the diseases and the supply lines and the shifting alliances (and the clothes.) I am also fascinated with the aftermath — thousands of veterans returned to their homes with something that looks like PTSD, and for the most part, the contemporaries managed to treat it about as well as we do — and this before anxiolytics, theory of mind or behavioral therapy. In fact, we’re now re-inventing some of their treatments.

I’m currently working on the second draft of a novel set in the immediate aftermath of Waterloo, when those who survived that field returned home and tried to resume their lives. Waterloo as a battle was probably the worst single-day mass casualty event to date, and it remained the worst until World War I — around a quarter of those who were on the field that day were killed or wounded. The day of Waterloo effectively started around noon and concluded at sunset, and it was a small battlefield — about six square miles if my math is correct. And in that small space, in those few hours, upwards of 50,000 people were killed or seriously wounded. In some places, the bodies were stacked several deep.

I knew I needed to go to England to do some on the ground research for the book — I’m setting it in Suffolk, which is not Berkshire, Manchester or London, and had entirely different social and economic structures in 1815 than the rest of the country. (As in, in Norfolk, the next county north, machine breakers got a good hold in the first part of the nineteenth century. They did not manage the same solidarity in Suffolk. I’d like to know why.) It also does not appear to have a high concentration of stately houses and nobility — most of the structures I’ve found were Victorian, not Georgian. It had a higher than average concentration of non-conformists, including Quakers, Methodists and Puritans. Suffolk is where most religious reforms have started.

I also knew that I would not be able to drive in England. However, I live at high altitude and I bike in a hilly area, so I feel confident that I’ll do fine with a combination of bikes and trains. That is a goal for this project — in the next two years, I need to be comfortable biking for four hours a day, several days a week, and doing so with a trailer at least part of the time.

Initially, I was planning to take my trip in 2014, but the longer I have to fund and prepare for this, the better. Also… delaying one year will let me be on scene for Waterloo, and for the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the battle. There will be people with black-powder rifles, and cannon, and cavalry. It will be cool.

But if I’m going to Waterloo, I want to do so with style, panache — and in period. I see no point in traveling 7000 miles to tramp around a battleground in shorts and sneakers. If I’m going to witness the re-enactment, I want to participate. I want to know what it was like to be on that battlefield.

To do so, I must be prepared to camp for several days, without ultralight backpacking gear or batteries.

And with luck, we’re seeing where this gets complicated: I want to spend three weeks in Suffolk, then cross the Channel for ten days in Belgium, then recross the Channel, spend some time in London (probably a week). I’m willing to camp the entire time (and Britain is blessed with numerous camping spaces) though I may not. I have to be able to carry all of my gear (with the assistance of my handy bike trailer and a bicycle.)

There’s a second complication — I don’t fly. I love planes, I love flight, but I hate what we’ve done to our airlines, and traveling with this kit is not going to be functional, given current restrictions. I also want to know what being on a ship is like. It turns out that taking a steerage cabin on a trans-Atlantic ship is not significantly more expensive than flying, except in terms of time. (I expect to get some reading and writing done during the two weeks of crossing.) The advantage of a ship is I can carry more luggage — and carry a few things that I can’t take on a plane. Also, no jetlag.

I do have a trial run available — the Battle of New Orleans re-enactment in January 2014. I’ll drive to that one, packing all of my gear into my Kia Soul (which has an incredible amount of cargo space) to see what I actually need and what I don’t.

That gives me my parameters: I need to build an encampment that:

–> I can carry or wheel around (no single box can weigh more than 40 pounds, the whole collection can’t weigh more than 150 pounds)
–> fits in spaces no larger than 24 inches by 36 inches by 15 inches (standard suitcase)
–> can be assembled by one technically and mechanically savvy woman of 5’3″ tall in one afternoon
–> passes period inspection to the level of standard tents (most of those I see in photos of re-enactments have machine-stitched hems and seams)
–> doesn’t force me to sleep on the ground (I’ll be 39, and I haven’t comfortably slept on the ground in years now)
–> provides sufficient shelter and space for one woman, her stuff, and will keep out the weather in both a Belgian summer and a Louisiana winter.
–> uses off-the-shelf components with minimal modification as much as possible.

I also need to build a period wardrobe that has its own set of parameters, including:

–> sufficiently warm for a Louisiana winter and a Belgian summer (according to NOAA and The Weather Channel, their averages are remarkably identical.)
–> exact for 1814/15
–> comfortable for daily wear
–> passes as formal wear for shipboard
–> possibly acceptable as regular daily wear. (Empire and militaria being fashionable at the moment)

The Waterloo Project: Shelter Sketches and Sketch-ups

The most critical piece of equipment for my Waterloo adventure will be the tent. I have to be able to erect and dismantle it in under two hours, and I have to be able to carry it, which means it has to weigh as little as possible. It needs to be water-resistant (water-proofing is aspirational) because it’s likely to rain in Belgium. (It did, on June 18, 1815 — that’s why the battle started around noon.)

It also has to be period — so no domes, no Sibleys, no tipis or wigwams. (Bender domes are period for the Roma, but by 1815, they were transitioning from their traditional domes to vardos.) It also has to be made of cotton or linen, not nylon. Earlier tents (medieval) were generally round with center pole and spokes, and few if any external guy lines, but by 1815, the structures were mostly either wedges or marquees.

However, all tents of the time were essentially custom, save for the simplest wedges (which were mostly the equivalent of shelter-halves — two or three men each carried a tarp; one for the pup-tent walls, one for a rain fly or floor.) There really weren’t tents at Waterloo — the actual battle happened too fast.

I’ve got two initial designs that I’m willing to try. The first is a basic marquee (i.e. rectangular, with a peaked roof) made from 3/4″ square dowels, joined with threaded inserts and threaded rods and angle brace hardware. It will have interior tie downs and staking, and the exterior will be entirely attached together, so it basically slips over the frame like a pillowcase. (order of assembly — roof trusses, then the fabric over-wrap and rain-fly, then the first set of legs, then the second set, then tie everything down.)

The frame will look like this:


The body will look something like this: (photo credit to Charlie Scott; construction credit to Sally Scott, link here )


If that doesn’t meet my parameters for packability and ease of construction, then there’s the covered wagon system. I’ve got images of extant covered wagons from the supply trains of the armies, but Napoleonic Wars wagons were smaller and lighter than American prairie schooners or Conestogas. They were simple boxes, usually about 4.5 feet wide and 7-8 long, about 6 tall from bed to peak, and they used willow withes as wagon bows instead of steam-bent planks. Willow withes are hard to get, but small diameter bamboo plant stakes make a decent substitution.

This is a preliminary sketch, using IKEA Ivar shelf standards and IKEA Gorm shelves. The point of using IKEA components is they’re off the shelf, there’s an IKEA near Waterloo, they require very little modification, and being soft wood, they’ll take screws and drilling easily. The downside of the IKEA solution is they generate waste I’ll have to get rid of and depending on the world financial situation, they may be significantly more expensive in two and a half years than they are now.


Fabric will be water-resistant cotton twill, selected specifically for lightness and water-resistance. Finely woven twill (think raincoat fabric) is incredibly sturdy, reasonably warm, and much lighter than canvas or duck. It’s not quite as light as nylon, but it’s also not as flammable. I’ll be adding a beeswax finish to seams to help with water-resistance. The twill I’ve selected weighs 6 ounces to the square yard, and I expect this to take between 15 and 18 yards of 60″ wide fabric, giving me a weight in fabric of about 15 pounds.

Groundcloth and floor will probably be canvas paint tarps — they’re sturdier than twill, so better able to handle being walked upon.